"That was a nice young man who interviewed us," said Alice.
"He was to you. But he did that thing to me."
"Didn't you notice?" Jane gave a sigh of self-pity. "When he mentioned all those books that my latest reminded him of. And you can't very well say you haven't read some of them or you'll look like an ignoramus. So you go along with it and then everyone assumes that's where you got your ideas from."
Alice thought this unduly paranoid. "They weren't thinking that, Jane. More likely they were writing him down as a showoff. And they loved it when he mentioned Moby-Dick and you put your head on one side and said, 'Is that the one with the whale?'"
"Jane, you're not telling me you haven't read Moby-Dick?"
"Did it look as if I hadn't?"
"No, not at all."
"Good. Well, I wasn't exactly lying. I saw the film. Gregory Peck. Was it good?"
"No, the book, silly."
"Since you ask, I haven't read it either."
"Alice, you're such a friend, you know."
"Do you read those young men everyone's going on about?"
"The ones everyone's going on about."
"No. I think they've got quite enough readers already, don't you?"
Their own sales were holding up, just about. A couple of thousand in hardback, twenty or so in paper. They still had a certain name recognition. Alice wrote a weekly column about life's uncertainties and misfortunes, though Jane thought it would be improved by more references to Alice's own life and fewer to Epictetus. Jane was still in demand when radio programmes needed someone to fill the Social Policy/Woman/Nonprofessional/Humour slot; though one producer had firmly added "BIM" to her contact details, meaning "Best in Morning."
Jane wanted to keep the mood going. "What about the young women everyone's going on about?"
"I suppose I pretend a little more to have read them than with the boys."
"So do I. Is that bad?"
"No, I think it's sisterly."
Excerpted from Pulse by Julian Barnes. Copyright © 2011 by Julian Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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